To Laugh While Crying

I was thinking today about Juan de Dios Peza‘s famous poem about English actor David Garrick.  It was my mother’s favorite poem when I was a child, and she used to recite it time after time.  I don’t think she empathized with the feelings of the poem, but rather liked the irony of its ending.  That’s what impacted me as well as a child, though with age I’ve been able to understand the feelings express much more clearly.

I couldn’t easily find an English translation of the poem online, so I’m writing my own.  I am really bad at translating poems, so please don’t hold it against me.

To Laugh While Crying

Watching Garrik – an actor from England –
the people would say applauding:
“You are the funniest one on earth
and the happiest one…”
And the comedian would laugh.

Victims of melancholy, the highest lords,
during their darkest and heaviest nights
would go see the king of actors
and change their melancholy into roars of laughter.

Once, before a famous doctor,
came a man with eyes so somber:
“I suffer – he said -, an illness so horrible
as this paleness of my face”

“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.

– Travel and distract yourself
– I’ve traveled so much!
– Search for readings
– I’ve read so much!
– Have a woman love you
– But I am loved
– Get a title
– I was born a noble

– Might you be poor?
– I have richnesses
– Do you like compliments?
– I hear so many!
– What do you have as a family?
– My sadness
– Do you go to the cemeteries?
– Often, very often.

– Of your current life, do you have witnesses?
– Yes, but I don’t let them impose their burdens;
I call the dead my friends;
I call the living my executioners.

– It leaves me – added the doctor – perplexed
your illness and I must not scare you;
Take today this advise as a prescription
only watching Garrik you can be cured.

-Yes, Garrik… The most indolent
and austere society anxiously seeks him;
everyone who sees him, dies of laughter;
he has an amazing artistic grace.

– And me? Will he make me laugh?
-Ah, yes, I swear it;
he and no one but him; but… what disturbs you?
-So  – said the patient – I won’t be cured;
I am Garrik! Change my prescription.

How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness!

Ay! How often we laugh when we cry!
Nobody trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans when the face laughs!

If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to the face,
a sad lighting: a smile.

The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.


Viendo a Garrick -actor de la Inglaterra-
el pueblo al aplaudirlo le decía:
“Eres el más gracioso de la tierra,
y más feliz…” y el cómico reía.

Víctimas del spleen, los altos lores
en sus noches más negras y pesadas,
iban a ver al rey de los actores,
y cambiaban su spleen en carcajadas.

Una vez, ante un médico famoso,
llegóse un hombre de mirar sombrío:
sufro -le dijo-, un mal tan espantoso
como esta palidez del rostro mío.

Nada me causa encanto ni atractivo;
no me importan mi nombre ni mi suerte;
en un eterno spleen muriendo vivo,
y es mi única pasión la de la muerte.

-Viajad y os distraeréis. -¡Tanto he viajado!
-Las lecturas buscad. -¡Tanto he leído!
-Que os ame una mujer. -¡Si soy amado!
-Un título adquirid. -¡Noble he nacido!

-¿Pobre seréis quizá? -Tengo riquezas.
-¿De lisonjas gustáis? -¡Tantas escucho!
-¿Qué tenéis de familia? -Mis tristezas.
-¿Vais a los cementerios? -Mucho… mucho.

-De vuestra vida actual ¿tenéis testigos?
-Sí, mas no dejo que me impongan yugos:
yo les llamo a los muertos mis amigos;
y les llamo a los vivos, mis verdugos.

Me deja -agrega el médico- perplejo
vuestro mal, y no debe acobardaros;
tomad hoy por receta este consejo
“Sólo viendo a Garrick podréis curaros”.
-¿A Garrik? -Sí, a Garrick… La más remisa
y austera sociedad le busca ansiosa;
todo aquel que lo ve muere de risa;
¡Tiene una gracia artística asombrosa!
-¿Y a mí me hará reír? -¡Ah! sí, os lo juro;
Él sí; nada más él; más… ¿qué os inquieta?
-Así -dijo el enfermo-, no me curo:
¡Yo soy Garrick!… Cambiadme la receta.

¡Cuántos hay que, cansados de la vida,
enfermos de pesar, muertos de tedio,
hacen reír como el actor suicida,
sin encontrar para su mal remedio!

¡Ay! ¡Cuántas veces al reír se llora!
¡Nadie en lo alegre de la risa fíe,
porque en los seres que el dolor devora
el alma llora cuando el rostro ríe!

Si se muere la fe, si huye la calma,
si sólo abrojos nuestra planta pisa,
lanza a la faz la tempestad del alma
un relámpago triste: la sonrisa.

El carnaval del mundo engaña tanto,
que las vidas son breves mascaradas;
aquí aprendemos a reír con llanto,
y también a llorar con carcajadas.

23 thoughts on “To Laugh While Crying”

  1. This is one of my favorite poems. I used to recite it since I was about 10 years old. I always identified myself with Garrik, still do. I really love this poem.

    1. I do too love this poem . I learned it when I was a around 12 or 13 years old . Mi uncle recited to me once and I felt in love with it . I amso glad to find the English translation so now I can show it to my only son alive since less than two month ago I lost my oldest son (Jordan)at the age of 26. Thanks so much .

      1. I really love this poem, when I was 14 I participated in context but I couldn’t finish, I was crying.Now as adult I understand why I was crying, I identified my self with Garrick. Time pass and now I have a daughter 26 years old with DYSTHYMIA (depression, anxiety) and for the pass year I was looking for this poem to share with my girl. Always there is Garrick and the life is not perfect.
        Thank you.

  2. Thank you Marga. The loss of Robin Williams made me look for this poem. I fell in Love with it during a poetry reading at my office in the 1970s

    Aprecio la traduccion.

  3. Hi Marga

    Yo crecí con este poema pues es el favorito de mi mamá, además del brindis del bohemio. Con la muerte de Robin Williams, Reír Llorando fue lo primero que me vino a la mente.
    Me lo se completito en español pero que sorpresa encontrarlo en inglés! Ahora si pude compartirlo con mi esposo y amigos que solo hablan ingles. Y que buena traducción! Es muy difícil traducir poemas manteniendo la cadencia del poema original y es exactamente lo que usted ha logrado en esta traducción, Excelente!

    Ada Nicky

  4. I have been looking for this poem since yesterday! thank you so much for having done the translation. The dead of such a ‘happy person” and so public person like Robin Williams made us to think again on the pain that mental illness inflicts on people of all social, economic, religious, cultural and racial backgrounds.
    I hope it is OK for me to share it in my FB page.

  5. I thought of this poem as soon as he died. I really loved this growing up. Im glad to know I was not the only one…but such melancoly… RIP Robin Williams

  6. Dearest Margarita,
    You have made my day complete…Today, my husband and I stayed in bed reading our favorite poetry from a book titled: Homero de Portugal: El libro de oro del declamador, and as always, started off with “Garrik,” a poem much loved by us. I have tried and tried to work on its translation but was never too happy with the results. Thanks for taking your time to write this translation so that now we are able to share with our non-Hispanic friends.
    You’ve done a great job…..Best Wishes, and maybe in the future, you can translate other favorites, like “El seminarista de los ojos negros.” M.D. retired language instructor

    1. Hello Maria. I was so happy to see you comment about the book: Homero de Portugal: El libro de oro del declamador. This used to be my papa’s favorite poetry book which he would read to me growing up. Unfortunately under my care at the age of 12 the book was left inside a building that burned down and my papa was never able to find another to replace it. Now as in adult I’ve been vigorously searching for a copy but I’m having difficulty finding it anywhere online. By any chance do you know if this book is available anywhere in your area and if not would it be too much to ask for a scanned version of the copy that you own?

  7. We Laugh and We Cry

    Watching Garrick, English master of the stage,
    A spellbound public marveled at his craft.
    “You’re the greatest and most wondrous of our age!”
    The actor, though, dismissed them with a laugh.

    Many a lord and lady, theater-bound,
    Sought solace in the actor’s fine-honed skill.
    His consummate performances were found
    To cure their spleens, and every other ill!

    A man of parlous visage, grim and pale,
    Did seek a famous doctor’s sage advice.
    His gaze was haunted and his body frail;
    His face was pallid and his hands were cold as ice.

    “You find me, Doctor, on the verge of death.
    To me, both fame and fortune are a lie.
    My sickly spleen does take away my breath
    And the only hope I harbor is to die!”

    “Travel, my good man!” “I’ve been round the world and back!”
    “Devote your time to books!” “Volumes have I read!”
    “A lady’s love, perhaps?” “There’s not been any lack.”
    “A title or a peerage, then?” “Nobly was I bred!”

    “Are you poor, perchance?” “I’ve savings for tomorrow.”
    “Perhaps you seek acclaim.” “To fame I’m now immune.”
    “And have you next of kin?” “My kinfolk are my sorrows.”
    “And what about the dead?” “I know I’ll join them soon.”

    “Your present life contents you as it stands?”
    “Indeed it does; I’m free of obligations.
    No living soul my fleeting time commands,
    While the dead have no such aspirations.”

    “A case most strange,” the goodly doctor mused.
    “Though nonetheless I trust we’ll find a cure.
    I think you ought to try to be amused,
    And Garrick is the one to see, for sure!”

    “Garrick, did you say?” “Yes, Garrick! All
    The patrons of the arts adore his act.
    Without a doubt his name you will recall.
    I saw him once myself, in fact!

    “And… I too will laugh?” “Of course!
    If he can’t help you, no one will.”
    “I’m sorry,” said the patient with remorse.
    “For I am Garrick… and I’m sickly still.”

    How many are there who wearily live
    With burdens of sadness, and grief and despair?
    Impressions of happiness laughingly give
    Like Garrick, whose sorrow was too much to bear?

    How many are there, who laugh when they cry!
    How bitter the tears that flow from the eyes
    That try to pretend that all’s well, and deny
    The sadness that deep down inside of them lies.

    Once faith is lost, and hope dispelled
    And only sorrow greets our furrowed gaze,
    One’s apt to smile, as if compelled
    To pierce the darkness with resplendent rays.

    This world is but a bitter masquerade,
    A stage whose props are set askew.
    A sordid show, a pitiful charade
    With actors who both laugh and cry on cue.

  8. My favorite poem, I was talking about it today to a British friend and I told her I was going to look for a traslation You did a good job, whats next? El brindis del bohemio? Good job thank you for taking the time and for

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